Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter has formed a task force to look at property taxes in the territory and concerns about rising property taxes, according to Government House.
Some St. John property owners have filed suit claiming St. John property values were revalued too high. The issue has been festering in some form for a decade. Government officials have said in Senate hearings that market prices for St. John properties are inflated by a number of high-price sales of luxury properties for wealthy individuals, but federal law requires market price to be the basis for property tax valuation.
According to Potter, he is forming the task force in response to territorywide concerns about rising property taxes since the 2013 revaluation performed at fair market value levels and the impact of increasing property assessments. Potter has "pledged the resources of his office to developing solutions that address the higher assessments that are driving taxes up and people off of their family land and out of their homes," according to a statement from Government House.
“Many Virgin Islanders, especially the people of St. John, are worried about rising property values and want to know how to manage future assessments that are virtually certain to result in higher tax bills,” Potter said in the statement.
The core mandate of the task force is to review the property tax system and offer reforms to relieve homeowners and other property owners of their increasing tax burdens. The nine-member task force will comprise two senators chosen by Senate President Neville James and other experts in the field of taxation, assessment administration, real estate and public finance. The members come from a wide cross section of socioeconomic and political groups on all three islands and from the continental United States.
The following individuals have been slated by Potter to serve on the proposed task force:
– Edward A. Crapo – tax expert and certified appraiser;
– Ira Mills – tax assessor of the Virgin Islands;
– R. Miles Stair – realtor of Holiday Homes of St. John;
– Jose Penn – business owner and respected community member of St. John;
– Atlee Connor – local contractor and resident of St. John;
– Bernadette Williams – former tax assessor of the Virgin Islands;
– Tami Archer – attorney with specialization in taxation
The task force is charged with proposing tax policy recommendations that can address and harmonize two competing claims: addressing the territory’s need to generate revenue to support public services and infrastructure maintenance – the core functions of local government operations; and helping the people of the Virgin Islands retain their property in the face of increasing tax liability directly related to increased property values.
In addition the task force will provide a framework for dialogue with a view to considering developed and emerging best practices and approaches to property assessments throughout the United States.
Potter expects that at the conclusion of the review period the task force will present a detailed, written real property tax reform plan that includes concrete recommendations for the government to adopt.
"Ultimately the work of the task force is to present several amended or new tax policies that are based on data-driven evidence and sound and sustainable economic principles,” Potter said.
The tentative date for the first face-to-face meeting of all task force members on St. Thomas is April 2.